Beverly Woman Beats the Odds, Survives COVID-19

Patient and guardian credit lifesaving care at Beverly Hospital

The crowd gathered outside Beverly Hospital cheered as the doors opened and Sarah Chisholm was wheeled out on a gurney. In the middle of her hospital stay, her health took a severe downturn, and doctors didn’t think she was going to make it. But after 22 long days in the hospital, Sarah, who has Down syndrome, had miraculously survived COVID-19. The day she went home, she smiled as she was put into the ambulance because she knew the hard part was over.

Looking back on the moment, Sarah said that she was excited to see the staff of the Johnson 6 unit at Beverly Hospital outside. When asked why, she explained, “They were clapping for me!”

Sarah’s guardian, Jessica Buchman, was cheering the loudest. They met 25 years ago when Jessica worked for Northeast Arc. Sarah lives in the Arc group home in Beverly.

“We’re more than friends,” Jessica explained. “She’s my family.”

At the height of the pandemic, Jessica wanted to be at the hospital with Sarah, but that was impossible due to infection control restrictions. Sarah’s nurses helped facilitate FaceTime calls between Sarah and Jessica, so Sarah knew she wasn’t alone.

“It was really a roller coaster of a ride, watching how Sarah went from her peppy, happy self to pretty much unresponsive in just a matter of days,” Jessica recalled. “It got to the point where the doctors told us not to expect her to come home, which was devastating to hear.”

During each video call, Jessica would take a screenshot. The one that stood out to her the most was one where Sarah was lying down in her hospital bed, wearing a breathing mask and signing, “I love you” with her fingers.

“As the days went on, her health started to fail and I just didn’t know when it was going to be her last day,” Jessica said. “So I thought that every picture I could take, every memory I could make was important. Sarah’s very near and dear to me and losing her was just not something I was ready to go through.”

But Sarah started to improve, eventually becoming well enough to go home. Jessica credits the care Sarah received at Beverly Hospital for saving her life. She’s grateful to the nurses for serving as Sarah’s surrogate family when Jessica couldn’t be there. They were the ones who organized the clap out for Sarah.

But that wasn’t the only celebration the day Sarah was released from the hospital. Her neighbors and the Beverly firefighters whose headquarters is across the street from her group home were on hand to welcome her back. 

The first thing Sarah did when she got home was eat one of her favorite meals – a cheeseburger and fries from Burger King. It gave her a sense of normalcy after three weeks of uncertainty.

“I think Sarah’s story is incredible,” said Rebecca Guiter, Program Director at Northeast Arc. “She’s a high risk population. The fact that she survived COVID is incredible. She’s a fighter. She didn’t give up the whole time.”

Now that Sarah has recovered, she’s back to doing the things she loves – blowing bubbles, coloring, reading books and dancing. And both Jessica and Sarah are grateful for that.